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‘You can’t ever say you haven’t been told’: My love letter to ‘The Sopranos’

Television, in particular paid programming television, has seen a cinematic revival since the turn of the twenty-first century. While once belittled as the little brother of the silver screen, the current landscape of television has changed drastically. No longer do actors smirk at the idea of taking on TV projects, but rather embrace it in ways not seen before. And while there have been dozens of titles that have received both critical and fan acclaim, all roads lead back to “The Sopranos” (1999-2007), arguably the godfather of modern television (yes, all puns intended).

A contemporary take on the American mafia genre, “The Sopranos” revolves around a crime family in New Jersey, headlined by our titular character, Tony Soprano. The premise begins with Tony as a criminal battling depression, but the show quickly becomes so much more. 86 hours of this show are still not enough to satisfy fans, as even after ending 16 years ago, HBO’s magnum opus continues to be a focal point for conversation, debate and remembrance. Parts drama, dark comedy and commentary on American society, “The Sopranos” has turned thousands of viewers into critics of all other pieces of cinema. I am one of those critics. 

And don’t get me wrong, I have come to love plenty of other shows over the years. Yet nothing has come to match the level of intersecting entertainment and enlightenment that “The Sopranos” has come to represent. Let me explain.

First, I seriously think you could consider several rewatches of “The Sopranos” as a tutorial to the world of business. Think of watching “The Sopranoss” as like a quasi-business school, unraveling before your eyes through the lens of La Cosa Nostra in metropolitan New Jersey. And yes, granted, the business conducted on the show is of course illegal. But the levels of intricacies present in these illegal rackets of the Soprano family can grow an intellectual curiosity inside the viewer that is truly unprecedented for its time. 

The ingenuity of such schemes has always made me wonder that if real-time mobsters used their business savvy, capital and execution toward more noble pursuits of commerce, then maybe their world would’ve been better off. But I digress. One some scheme in season four circles around fugazi (fake) mortgage loans in inner city Newark. First, Tony Soprano and crew, with the help of their combined political capital, buy up houses primed for urban development in the city. Then, using a bribed real estate appraiser, they reevaluate the houses at a 300% markup. The revalued houses are then sold to a not-for-profit also enlisted in the scheme, who then defaults on the mortgage payments. Percentages of the profits are then chopped up “nicely.” Negotiation, organizational management, quality control and conflict resolution are all developed in depth. “Charles Schwab over here,” I believe is a quote. 

But more importantly, as a Roman Catholic, there is truly a triumphant relevance that exists in the show’s discussion of spirituality, God, eternal life, redemption and the evil that is present within the Mafia’s half-hazard embrace of its Catholic heritage. For the Italian members of La Cosa Nostra, their shared religious culture gives a divine dignity to their work. When members are inducted into the Mafia, they burn a photo of a chosen patron saint, simply repeating, “May I burn in hell if I betray my friends.” Additionally, when the discussion of hell is once again broached, characters revert to their place in the mob as a saving grace from eternal hellfire. “We are soldiers, we don’t go to hell,” is a continuous sentiment throughout all six seasons. 

Additionally, when two integral characters are wounded by gunshot, they are left with lengthy recoveries. For these men, gruesome nightmares follow them. Visions of hell as “never-ending St. Patrick’s Days” are discussed, and these characters seemingly see that their current paths are a one-way ticket there. But our mafiosos accept this, and Tony Soprano becomes a sociopathic figure of the devil, leading his crime family into the twenty-first century. Like the devil, Tony attracts all around him with false promises, sin and delight, while ultimately sowing their destruction. “My Uncle Tony, that’s who I am going to hell for,” is often how he is referred to. 

But the most harrowing spiritual encounter of all comes in the form of civilian complacence with the sins of the crime family. In particular, “innocent” family members such as a children and wives are caught up in the crossfire of realizing the truth of their abundance of riches. Carmela Soprano, the wife of Tony Soprano, acts as the centerpiece for this. In the first season, Carmela’s children begin to poke the bear of Tony’s activities as a mafioso, but Carmela is aware of it all along. Tony and Carmela’s children eventually accept the lifestyle, and actually come to defend it, but Carmela’s peace of mind sometimes wavers. Tony keeps her entertained with diamonds, furs and Mercedes SL, but he is serially unfaithful and seldom acts to keep business out of the habitat of the Soprano family home.

In season 3, Carmela sees a Jewish psychiatrist after continuing to struggle with her husband and his infidelity. The doctor gets Carmela to open up, as she truly does want Tony to reconcile for his sins. Carmela insists that she was only ever there to “make sure he had clean clothes in his closet and dinner on his table.” But instead of advice, Carmela gets an ultimatum. The doctor brings judgement and brings it hard. He laments, “You must trust your initial impulse and consider leaving him. You’ll never be able to feel good about yourself. Never be able to quell the feelings of guilt and shame that you talked about. As long as you’re his accomplice… Take only the children — what’s left of them — and go…  I’m not charging you because I won’t take blood money. And you can’t either. One thing you can never say: that you haven’t been told.”

For those who haven’t seen the show, I’m sorry. But Carmela never ends up leaving Tony for good. And while her character fails to answer the spiritual call, what other shows even broach this subject?  The ending of the series is infamously ambiguous and keeps the conversation going, but I think this scene and hundreds of others beg questions on philosophy, spirituality, society, that haven’t been matched on TV. So seriously, sit back and enjoy the show.

Stephen Viz is a one-year MBA candidate and graduate of Holy Cross College. Hailing from Orland Park, Illinois, his columns are all trains of thoughts, and he can be found at either Decio Cafe or in Mendoza. He can be reached at sviz@nd.edu or on Twitter, @StephenViz. 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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It’s a wonderful life

During the Christmas season, “It’s a Wonderful Life” never fails to put the world into perspective. And I am sure that this 1946 movie placed plenty of things into perspective for lead actor for James Stewart. The acclaimed late actor, who plays main character George Bailey, was a military veteran of World War II. Stewart felt he was not ready to take on the role so shortly after the war, but after much convincing from producers, he accepted. Jimmy Stewart suffered greatly from post-traumatic stress disorder, and this PTSD he suffered from the war made it difficult for Stewart to return to civilian life. Eventually, Stewart used this PTSD for the emotions of George Bailey when he decided to take on the role. 

After the film’s release, Stewart told the press that he related greatly to his character of George Bailey. For Stewart, the scenes of a man self-labeled as a failure acting out in anger proved to be “cathartic” for him in the recovery of his mental health. It would seem likely that a wave of gratitude followed Stewart in his transition from active duty to a return to the silver screen. Self-gratitude for life, health, good fortune perhaps. George Bailey certainly learns gratitude in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The movie follows George from early childhood to adulthood, as the selfless man makes his way through life giving the most of himself to others and doing the right things not because he wants to, but because they need to be done. One of my favorite scenes in the movie falls on Black Tuesday, 1929. A newlywed and a successful family bank owner, George and his wife give their entire honeymoon fund to customers in need of liquidity, and George quickly becomes a noble folk hero to many. 

But this sheer selflessness begins to be too much. When George’s Uncle Billy loses thousands needed for the bank’s liquidity, George falls into deep despair. Contemplating suicide, George only snaps out of his trance when he saves another man’s life from a suicide attempt. This man turns out to be the wingless heavenly Angel, Clarence. And through granting George the perspective of never being born, Clarence is able to invigorate George with a new lease on life, a life filled with gratitude, clarity and thankfulness. George sees what his world would look like without him in it and is enlightened. It is this gratitude, emotion and storytelling that cause me to cry every time at the end of the movie. Truly, a masterpiece. 

Like George Bailey and Jimmy Stewart, I also find great life perspectives upon my annual screening of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Through adversity, my Catholic faith has helped me to see that I am “enough,” and through this perspective I have limited anxiety, indecision and self-sabotage that have ran rampant in the hearts and minds of our generation. 

“It’s a Wonderful Life” often reminds me as well of an encounter from my childhood, an encounter that just marked its tenth anniversary this January. On the Feast of the Epiphany in 2013 (NFL Wild Card Weekend is how I remembered it as a kid), my uncles introduced George to my siblings and me after Sunday Mass. A gentle giant at 6-foot-5, George was a young man my uncles had befriended who worked for an auto racing company they were involved in. George was a drifter, and seemingly had lost interest in his everyday life. George was in desperate need of fulfillment and purpose, and thanks to the persistence and kindness of my uncles, they brought George back to the Sacraments he had long since forgotten. George received the Eucharist and Reconciliation, and much of that day I remember revolving around that mass, laughs and a great meal. What else do you need in life, right? 

A week later, George passed away. Black ice in Chicago can be deadly, and George’s car took a turn for the worst, leading to his tragic death in automobile accident. My dad took several of my siblings and myself to the wake, and it was at this wake that George’s father granted us some insight. In the week between meeting George and his death, my little sister had drawn George several cards centered around our family’s thoughts and prayers for his wellbeing. George’s dad relayed to us that when the accident scene was investigated, those cards containing messages of faith, hope and charity were on the dashboard of George’s car. In that heap of twisted metal, perhaps George’s last moments of life revolved around that jovial encounter we had enjoyed just one week before. I am thankful that my uncle’s acted in the role of Clarence, the angel tasked with setting George Bailey’s life back on track. Thanks to their efforts, we can hope with enthusiasm that George left our Earth in the state of grace. 

When I think of George Bailey and our friend George, I am often reminded of a wise quote that follows me around in in the best of ways. “To the world you just might be one person, but to one person, you just might be the world.” To so many people that are feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, despaired or despondent, I hope this quote makes its way into your life. Because if it does, I hope it impacts you in the way it has me. I am pulling for you, and of course, praying for you.  

Stephen Viz is a one-year MBA candidate and graduate of Holy Cross College. Hailing from Orland Park, Illinois, his columns are all trains of thoughts, and he can be found at either Decio Cafe or in Mendoza. He can be reached at sviz@nd.edu or on Twitter at @StephenViz.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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In response to “The Devil in Nerd’s Clothes”

Forbes magazine technology writer David Jeans released a piece last weekend titled “The Devil in Nerd’s Clothes”. The article depicts the rise and fall of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX, an abbreviation of “Futures Exchange.” More importantly, the article explains the personality and destructive decisions taken by FTX founder Sam Bankman–Fried. The nerd in this situation is Bankman-Fried and the devil stands to be his destructive decisions that have led FTX to bankruptcy. Jeans’ piece is an excellent read, and I highly encourage checking it out. But for now, hear me out, because I have some thoughts on the matter.

For people like myself who have been bearish on cryptocurrency since its rise to popularity, the collapse of FTX comes as no surprise. Bankman-Fried’s net worth has depleted, and investors and regulators alike are calling for SBF’s (his self-proclaimed nickname) head on a platter. Think King Herod and St. John the Baptist, it’s that bad. It’s certainly worth taking a deeper look at how a Silicon Valley raised, MIT educated billionaire let it all go to waste. 

FTX’s collapse is not a strange one, as the economics are simple, but boy it was a quick collapse. FTX’s business model was supposed to be simple. The world’s first cryptocurrency exchange, the company promoted the liquidity and transacting of coins and tokens (Minecraft anyone?). FTX allows users to connect their wallets, place trades, exchange digital commodities, enter derivative contracts or buy/sell NFT’s. Founded in 2019, SBF and his constituents gathered massive investor interest, as funds and individuals joined seed rounds in order to not miss out. The rise of meme stocks and amateur day traders (looking at you Dave Portnoy) helped FTX to gain billions in liquidity, and that money was quickly spent. Advertising and endorsements took center stage, as athletes Tom Brady and Lewis Hamilton inked deals, and the Miami Heat’s arena was renamed “FTX arena”. All these endorsements would’ve been great, if FTX actually had the money. 

FTX created their own make-believe token called FTT and encouraged investors to buy it for two years. These tokens served as airline miles for loyal customers and allowed Bankman-Fried to invest new cash into a company run hedge fund. The problem with this was the lack of insured value, as the worth of FTT soared to $80 a token. When financial reporters began to investigate the solvency of FTX, the company Binance, another cryptocurrency exchange, sold all of their FTT holdings. This terrified investors, and the value of FTT plummeted like the Hindenburg. Investors could not recover their holdings in cash because, well, FTX didn’t have any cash.

There is a quote from HBO’s finance show “Industry” that probably best describes SBF’s mindset in this whole debacle. “The thing people forget about this Icarus dude, is that before he fell, he flew. And I bet the sun gave off a lovely light.”

Bankman-Fried probably felt euphoric when raising his company to unprecedented new heights in a completely uncharted and unregulated space. Seeing the “FTX” logo on jerseys, Twitter, and on TVs across the world must’ve been quite the rush, especially if your personal net worth inched closer each day to $10 billion. And sure, I have no way of knowing anything about SBF’s character and morality, but the dude certainly took care of his friends. He even bought a five story penthouse in Nassau, Bahamas, for them all to live in. He also was active in politics, donating close to $40 million in contributions to campaigns in 2020. But, as in the tragic story of Daedalus and Icarus, they both knew that if they flew to close to the sun with their makeshift wings, the heat of the sun would melt the wax holding their wings, sending you to certain death in the ocean below. Regardless, Icarus flew to close to the sun, and died. SBF is Icarus, and I believe he knew a crash was unavoidable. 

As detailed in Jeans’ piece, FTX is a venture that allowed SBF full autocratic control. I don’t know whose idea that was, but SBF singularly ran FTX because he got investors and employees to buy into his vision. And as former staffers point out, Sam was not only aware of the company’s Ponzi scheme strategy, but also aware of the mirage he put on to inform and persuade. So why didn’t anyone say anything? I mean, for crying out loud, the company is incorporated and headquartered in the Bahamas, which is a tax haven. Was that not enough of a red flag for investors? For a company without proven cash flows, firms were unusually eager to throw millions at SBF’s now severely flawed vision. And now, as firms like Sequoia Capital are writing off nine-figure losses on their balance sheets, the world for the story to further develop. 

Now, so what? Why does it matter to us that large hedge funds and average investors have lost billions thanks to this collapse? Are we supposed to feel sympathy? Remorse? I don’t. And I won’t. Now I am not insensitive to the fact that people lost money. Rather, my negativity is based on who they lost it with. Some of the best investors in history have used simple philosophies to generate returns. One such philosophy — to invest in companies that offer product and services that directly increase the quality of life for customers and employees — can be foolproof when done correctly. Investment in FTX is not this. Creating value and owning “value” are two very different concepts. The value owned by FTX token holders does not create. In fact, it has done the opposite. It has destroyed. 

But we shouldn’t be surprised. Technology focused “Nerds” and entrepreneurs like SBF have become increasingly commonplace in the 21st century. Hustlers and salespeople such as Adam Neumann and Elizabeth Holmes have been at the forefront of schemes pulled off for personal gain. Bankman-Fried and other nerds have used their educational expertise to generate investor buy in. Even worse, this has extended to generational buy in. I cannot begin to comprehend how many conversations I’ve had with peers who’ve been obsessed with crypto, Dogecoin, FTX and so many other means of superficial commerce. One conversation with a graduating peer last May left me dumbfounded. “What are you planning to do after graduation?” I asked. This classmate responded, “Oh I am going to move to Silicon Valley and make my own NFT”. Dude. What the hell does that even mean? I don’t have a lot of suggestions this week, but I don’t expect this trend to change anytime soon. I am not usually one to eagerly drink the Fighting Irish Kool-Aid, but I am certainly glad we have the chance to learn under minds who would certainly agree with me. 

Stephen Viz is a one-year MBA candidate and graduate of Holy Cross College. Hailing from Orland Park, Illinois, his columns are all trains of thoughts, and he can be found at either Decio Cafe or in Mendoza. He can be reached at sviz@nd.edu or on Twitter at @StephenViz. 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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‘Let’s go Brandon!’

If you are about to email my editor demanding that I be terminated from The Observer staff because I’m a fascist bigot, just hear me out before you do so.  But I hope that your first thoughts are more so of intrigue regarding my clickbait title, and as fortune favors the bold, let me explain my position. I honestly had several thoughts on what this piece should be titled before finalizing my decision. “A Slice of South Dining Deli Ham Focused Grouped to be more Presidential than Joe Biden” and “Laura Ingraham; Says the Commentator Who Was Just Called a Piece of Domesticated Feta by The Atlantic” were examples of titles that swarmed my brain during the creative writing process. But a writing goal I have is to be more succinct, and nothing speaks more concisely to the hysteria of contemporary American politics than “Let’s Go Brandon.”

It is midterm election season after all, and this hysteria is all the craze. There is a great scene from the “Game of Thrones” prequel, “House of the Dragon,” that highlights my current frustration with politics. At a royal hunt thrown for the birthday of his son, King Viserys is presented with proposals from suitors to wed his oldest daughter, Rhaenyra. After he asked to consider another ridiculous proposal for his daughter’s hand, King Viserys simply retorts, “I have come here to hunt, not to be suffocated by all this f***ing politicking!” Same brother, same. My contempt for politics is similar to the King’s and can probably be attributed to my exposure to media and civil discourse at a very age. Growing up in suburban Cook County certainly placed me in an ideological “No Man’s Land.” Liberal agendas in Chicago proper continuously struck blows with the conservative ideologies that resided in the rest of Illinois. Beginning in the fourth grade, I would always beg my dad to bring home a copy of the Chicago Sun-Times after work, to which he would always oblige. Of course, the sports section was my singular preference for several years, but as I began to read more, that content began to dry up. So, I turned to the sections of the newspaper not made for the faint of heart, business and politics. And I was shocked at the headlines that would creep across the pages as I started to retain information, and in turn, think for myself. Rod Blagojevich’s imprisonment, the assassination attempt on Gabby Giffords’ life, the 2012 presidential election, and so many more headlines frustrated me. Why politics was so violent, corrupt and self-aggrandizing was something I just couldn’t understand. Unbeknownst to me, this would only get worse. Much worse. 

So, let’s fast forward to 2020, one of the most discouraging years in recent memory. The 2020 general elections were a buildup of economic, social and, of course, COVID-19 issues that ravaged our national landscape, and it brought out the worst in social justice warriors and proud boys alike. Social media was a battleground for “Gotcha Journalism” and political interest, and the general election came center stage that November, a stage for all to see. And to me, it highlighted how damaging politics can be. So damaging in fact that it impacts the very fibers of our human spirit. While Joe Biden lamented on webinars, “If you don’t vote for me, then you’re not Black,” Donald Trump made verbal attacks on the character of Biden’s son Hunter, while belittling his deceased son Beau. Later, the events of Jan. 6 solidified that our American political culture is plagued with one of the worst culture wars our society has ever seen. And while memes can attempt to rectify the situation (these are so funny), there are no signs this culture war will be slowing down anytime soon. 

Now let’s fast forward to the present, November 2022. Two years into Biden’s term as the 46th president of the United States, the Right continues to have a field day as “Let’s Go Brandon” chants consistently flood our stadiums. The left hopes to hold some ground in congress with elections next week, but if history has anything to say about it, conservatives are going to have a field day next week. Yes, I could write that the damage is seen in the way we address things as Right and Left, but the factors that have irritated me the most in this political season are the ways both sides of the aisle view their politicians. This isn’t about who wins and who loses, or who even will be president in 2024. This is much bigger than that. Politicians no longer view themselves as public servants, and in turn, their supporters don’t either. There is a perception that our politicians are “free-thinking champions of conservative or liberal ideologies.” But the reality is, that the majority of our supposed “public servants” are limousine liberals or country club conservatives. So, the question must be asked, when and why did public service become a political aspiration? Some might disagree with Plato in his opinion that philosophers make the best leaders, but he is not wrong in stating that political leadership is a duty, not a career preference or an avenue for the pursuit of power and self-interest. The best leaders are chosen for their positions, not by their own advocacy, but through the support of others who see that they have the right qualities to lead. 

Are there obvious flaws in the very pillars of our American Constitution and democracy? You bet. Are there socioeconomic inequities that exist between classes and races in our country that have been made worse by political self-interest? Yes sir buddy, yes sir. Are there tangible solutions that will help our society move forward and heal? I don’t know. And I am not going to pretend that I know the path forward to find politicians that will stand for office out of public service. But I do know two things that must be eradicated to have any hope to achieve societal goals in a partisan fashion. First, the “me” focused attitude of our politicians in office must be adjusted. Far too often we see politicians fixate talking points around “When I was in office, inflation did this, unemployment rates went down, and my bills passed did this blah blah blah blah blah.” Political rhetoric has always been a problem for politicians, but maybe if they at least pretended to be public servants then this conversation would be different. But they don’t. It’s not about you. It’s about the country and the people you represent who voted you into office. But what do I know? 

Secondly, political theater and stunts must be stopped at all costs. Looking at you Martha’s Vineyard and all parties involved. The September stunt, which saw dozens of migrants from Latin America be flown into the haven for the super-rich denied these migrants a chance at finding basic human dignity through the ability to work. Democrat party leaders such as Joe Biden call it a stunt but were criticized for inaction. Republican officials such as Florida governor Ron DeSantis called it a motion to prove the hypocrisy of the left but were seen as being cruel and intolerant. And this is only a recent stunt that has made headlines, as political theater is nothing new to our democracy. Public service, not political agendas, might be able to dissuade that. 

As Saint Mother Teresa always used to pray “The Fruit of Service is Peace,” and maybe, just maybe if our leader’s pursued servitude, then we might be able to find peace as a nation. Or maybe at the least, they wouldn’t be the punchline of jokes like “Let’s Go Brandon.”

Stephen Viz is a one-year MBA candidate and graduate of Holy Cross College. Hailing from Orland Park, Illinois, his columns are all trains of thoughts, and he can be found at either Decio Cafe or in Mendoza. He can be reached at sviz@nd.edu or on Twitter at @StephenViz. 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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Stephen J. Viz shall never return to Las Vegas, Nevada

OK, that’s probably hyperbole, but let me explain some things before I begin. First, I must apologize to the faithful readers of our humble little newspaper. This was a week with Vegas heavy content in The Observer. But c’mon, there was no way I was going to travel to Las Vegas and not write about it. Feel free to stop reading at any point if you have Sin City burnout. Second, as I wrote before Labor Day, if you get the chance to travel for Notre Dame football, take it and run with the money. The atmosphere inside Allegiant Stadium was electric and the football team’s turnaround under the leadership of Marcus Freeman and company must be commended. My excitement for the coming years can hardly be contained, as Notre Dame versus Texas A&M in 2024 is already on my calendar. With that being said, I only came to Las Vegas for a Notre Dame football-focused reunion, and without the pomp and circumstance of the Irish, I will find it hard to make it back to the city. Allow me to shed some light on the subject. 

Upon arriving to Harry Reid International Airport on Thursday night, I found myself as an exhausted little man. The week of Oct. 3 was a finals week for MBA students, and upon completing finals on Thursday morning, it took nearly us three and a half hours to make it to O’Hare in Chicago. Unreal. (JB Pritzker, you owe me $12.50 for overcharging us in tolls). The stop-and-go traffic made us nearly miss our flight, but by the grace of God, we made it. The six-hour flight was made worse by what must have been the world’s most annoying flight attendant. This dude seriously would not shut up. I’m sorry. His jokes were even worse. “Why was the mountain bad at hide and seek?” he asked. “Because it peaks!” Dead silence followed until a rowdy bachelor party sitting behind us began to curse him out. After that, I just may never fly Southwest again. Once we landed, we ventured out of the airport to hail an uber. As we were taken into the heart of the strip, the next sixty hours in the city would give me some keen insights on a place I’d rather not return to in the immediate future. 

My euphoria certainly increased upon seeing old classmates and taking in an Irish Victory, but my opinions regarding the city persisted throughout the high and lows of the weekend. How badly the city smelled was my first thought. Both inside and out, Las Vegas is a stinky town. Imagine Cheers Pub met a hot steam shower met a piece of gas station pizza and that will give you the insight on how I think Vegas smells. It was repulsive. It probably doesn’t help that folks are allowed to smoke inside, but the smell is something that will stick with me for the rest of my life. My second thought regarded the price gouging. It was most apparent at a Notre Dame function at Caesars Palace on Friday night. My friend Camden ordered a cocktail, and I eagerly awaited the receipt like a tiger stalking its prey. “That will be $73.50 sir,” the bartender responded. Lol. Bring back Prohibition if the venues in Vegas have the gall to charge nearly 100 bucks for a drink. But since people will gladly pay, I suppose those prices will stay the same (I chose to settle for a $17 Michelob Ultra, how lucky am I. Look at us, who would’ve thought). 

But as my thoughts continued to linger, they were always brought back to how depressing the town is. The sunshine, palm trees and bright lights don’t do a good enough job of hiding the depressive ooze of overpriced booze, bad behavior and the manipulation of customer appetites. The house always wins, and the gambling industry that has made Vegas a household name deserves a lot more criticism than I think it gets. While Vegas serves as a cultural center of America that brings people together for conferences, shows and bachelor parties, gambling sits at the heart of it all. A revenue driver that pieces the whole place together, it cannot be escaped. The airport is cluttered with various slot machines that beep and blink for any traveler that wants a taste. Casinos up the ante, as their floors can become filled with hundreds of guests looking to win it big on the blackjack table. But the reality is, almost all of them end up leaving with less money than they came in with. 

And I know what you might be thinking. “Oh Stephen, shut up nerd, live a little.” “Oh Stephen, you’re just a sore loser who lost money at the tables and now wants to complain about it.” “Oh Stephen, you’re just a guy who clearly can’t handle Vegas.” To answer that, yes I have lived a little, and love a healthy wager from time to time, whether that be on the golf course or on a downloaded sportsbook. And yes, I lost a little bit of money playing blackjack, but thank God I know my limits, because unfortunately for some, they don’t. 

Sadly, gambling can be devastating for those who don’t know their limits. Gambling addiction is a vice that can affect the wellbeing of not only those afflicted but the well-being of their friends and family as well. “I can make it all back on this hand” is a mindset that can be cancerous and once compulsive gamblers find themselves in a hole, it becomes very difficult to climb out of. Las Vegas’s bread and butter has been made off those with this crippling addiction. I found this great article written by a compulsive gambler fighting his addiction in Las Vegas. “Unlike alcohol or drugs, gambling was easy to hide. You couldn’t smell it on my breath. I could walk in a straight line and drive safely after a binge (my drink of choice while playing slots was sparkling water with a twist of lime). Gambling didn’t leave track marks on my arms or white residue in my nostrils. Several times, I met up with friends for dinner or to see a comedy show twenty minutes after losing a thousand dollars at the machines. I simply put on my happy social mask and carried on.”

A harrowing but optimistic story, the predatory nature of “Adult Disneyland” on those with addiction is the biggest reason why I will always find myself contemptuous with the city. While surely many people can enjoy a weekend in Nevada without worrying about overdrawn bank statements and maxed-out credit scores, gambling addictions have cost people their homes, careers, marriages and even their own lives. So, if you are reading this and have a compulsory gambling addiction, I am praying for you and your courage to be honest about your addiction. Viva La Vegas, I think not. 

Stephen Viz is a one-year MBA candidate and graduate of Holy Cross College. Hailing from Orland Park, Illinois, his columns are all trains of thoughts, and he can be found at either Decio Cafe or in Mendoza. He can be reached at sviz@nd.edu or on Twitter at @StephenViz. 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Observer.

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I wish grandpas never died

“And I wish even cars had truck beds
And every road was named Copperhead
And coolers never run out of cold Bud Light
And I wish high school home teams never lost
And back road drinkin’ kids never got caught
And I wish the price of gas was low and cotton was high
I wish honky tonks didn’t have no closing time
And I wish grandpas never died.”

These are lyrics from country singer Riley Green’s 2019 magnum opus, “I Wish Grandpa’s Never Died.” Dedicating this song to his two late grandfathers, Green credits them as co-writers on a track that has been streamed 130 million times in 2022 alone. If you haven’t listened to this song, please do. Because I guarantee it will at least bring up memories of growing up. For me, it reminds me of my grandparents.

Like many teenagers and young adults across the country, I grew up with grandparents who had a massive impact on my development as a child of God. And like so many other kids, I have helped lay my paternal grandparents to rest. I never met my maternal grandparents due to their passing before my parents’ wedding, but for 25 years, my grandparents never knew the word “no” when it came to the needs of their 11 grandchildren. Devoted, tireless and generous to a fault, Steve and Marilyn lived a life of service and integrity that is rarely seen. I miss them dearly and am grateful for the presence they had in my life and in the lives of others.

This week commemorates the second anniversary of their passing, as my grandpa Steve died eight days after my grandma, Marilyn. The namesake for both my dad and I, my grandpa Stephen A. “Steve” Viz was one of the smartest men I’ve ever met. Born to Hungarian immigrants in Dayton, Ohio in 1936, Steve’s father passed away six weeks after he was born. Forged by his mother, older brothers and the city of Chicago that they called a new home, my grandpa’s life was anything but uneventful.

Two weeks after being sent home from school due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the health of both my grandparents began to decline. After several more health scares, my grandma was sent to a rehabilitation facility for nearly five weeks. When she was released, health compilations would then arise for my grandpa, a man who had survived a heart coronary nearly forty years before. When my grandma would return from facilities, my grandpa would enter them. A frustrating process for both me and my extended family, the five months before their deaths were filled with the dread of hospital food, COVID visitations and healthcare worker availability.

But even through all this, we came to see our quarantined spring and summer as a blessing from above. A hard reset, it gave my siblings, parents and me not only the chance to catch up, but to care for the grandparents who had cared for us for the entirety of our lives. These months were filled with belly laughs, great meals and stories. The true story of a scar on my grandpa’s lip even came to light. He detailed that in 1946, the best thing to do for kids in the city on a Saturday was to participate in a “rumble” where unwatched neighborhood children would fight each other and place wagers on it. Amidst the anxieties of COVID-19, these were the best of times.

After weeks of in-home, end-of-life care, my grandma passed away on the morning of Sept. 20 2020, with my brother Thomas at her side. Her wake and funeral followed a Friday/Saturday format that following week, and I could clearly tell that my grandpa was hurting. To see your spouse of 54 years be laid to rest would suck the life out of anyone, but still, my grandpa pushed through. On Sunday, he wanted to accompany my dad and I on the drive back to South Bend. Our 75-minute ride back from the southwest suburbs of Chicago went by quickly, but as we listened on the radio to the Bears defeating the Falcons and conversed, all agony and dismay dissolved. Following an evening of Noodles & Company and Culver’s custard, we exchanged goodbyes. “Stephen, I love you and am proud of you” were the final words he mentioned to me that night. Those would be the last words I would ever hear him say.

The following morning while in class, a quick barrage of texts noted news I was not expecting. “Grandpa just passed away on the drive to Christ Hospital. Congestive heart failure.” I had no words. I was stunned. Shell-shocked. Befuddled. Discombobulated. Leaving that class, I told the professor of my next class that I wasn’t going to be taking his midterm, returned to my room and sobbed.

My grandpa’s funeral would be that following weekend, exactly a week after my grandma’s funeral. And while we yearned as a family to be anywhere but that funeral home, something about these services was different. No longer was my grandfather in a wheelchair accepting condolences for the loss of his beloved wife. Rather, we took solace in the fact that after only eight days apart, my grandparents were united again once more on the heavenly plane. My cousin, an Augustinian priest, sealed my peace of mind with his homily at my grandfather’s funeral mass. “Love and do what you will. If we can say that Steve and Marilyn did this throughout their Christian life, then there is no doubt that they are reunited today in the eternal Kingdom of Heaven.” Two years later, this anniversary is not a solemn one, but a joyful day of remembrance that commemorates the beautiful lives my grandparents lived.

So, to Steve and Marilyn: May God give you rest, and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Stephen Viz is a one-year MBA candidate and graduate of Holy Cross College. Hailing from Orland Park, Illinois, his columns are all trains of thoughts and he can be found at either Decio Cafe or in Mendoza. He can be reached at sviz@nd.edu or on Twitter at @StephenViz.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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LIV, Laugh, Love: He’s a 10 but employed by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund

I read this tweet three months ago when it was penned during the height of the “He/she’s a ten” memes and the LIV/PGA tour drama that escalated this summer. The context of this tweet directly refers to the persona of Brooks Koepka, golf’s resident bad boy and four-time major winner who spurned the PGA tour in favor of the endless riches that the LIV invitational series has come to offer. Brooks’ reputation is one of a good-looking athlete who really doesn’t care much about anything, and as someone who follows the sport, I thought it was funny (sue me). The weeks that followed this initial internet hysteria saw many household names on the PGA tour defect for this newly minted rival syndicate, LIV Golf, which is bankrolled by the Saudi sovereign fund (SSF). The SSF is one of the largest such funds in the world, bursting at the seams with $620 billion assets under management. The sole purpose of the fund is to invest funds on behalf of the Saudi Arabian government, and LIV CEO and major winner Greg Norman unveiled the league’s vision as something that would change the face of golf for the better.

Well thanks a lot, Greg, because it has only made things worse. Before and after Koepka’s defection, notable tour card holders such as Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Kevin Na and Patrick Reed all came join to LIV, thrusting the golf world into a civil war. Now, as the LIV and PGA seasons have ended and the former looks for a television rights partner, I would be remiss to not argue that for the foreseeable future, the landscape of professional golf has been ruined. Crushed like the Galactic Republic. Toppled like the Berlin Wall. The PGA tour may or may not be responsible for losing a dozen of its largest names to the LIV tour, but the conflict is here for good. As the riches of the Saudi backed syndicate seep through the sport, let me explain what I think lies ahead for professional golf.

A product of the global pandemic, golf’s popularity amongst amateurs has never been higher. Amongst spectators and the purchasing public however, the game has lacked the storylines outside of the LIV/PGA drama that generate interest, revenue and increased brand value. The decline of Tiger Woods since his riveting Masters victory in 2019 has played a role in this, but people are just not consuming the game like they used to. Now factor that the most idiosyncratic personalities in the sport (Koepka, Mickelson, DeChambeau, Johnson, etc.) have packed their bags and left, the PGA tour has a talent massive issue on their hands.

But so does LIV. And yes, I could talk about how the league is funded by a country who has no care for basic human rights and is no friend of the West. But when it comes to dollars and cents, they are as flush as one can be, and this has kept LIV leadership has silent regarding these societal issues. When asked about this track record of issues, Norman simply stated, “We’ve all made mistakes”. If Norman was referring to a 12-year-old who had stolen a candy bar from a gas station, that might’ve been the appropriate response. But for a country that didn’t allow women to drive until July of 2018, actively persecutes the LGBTQ+ community and puts journalists critical of the regime to death, do you really think they view their politics as mistakes Gregory?

But along with the horrific implications that go with being bankrolled by a morally inept evil oil empire, LIV golf is simply bad product. The name LIV derives from the Roman numerals for 54, as LIV golfers only play 54 holes in a weekend tournament, with no cuts to be missed or made. Compare this to the PGA tour, where a 72-hole tournament is played Thursday through Sunday, with a cut that shrinks the field by half being determined on Friday. Currently, if you don’t make the cut in a PGA event, you don’t get paid for the weekend. In addition to this, four day events separate the best from the rest, as the grueling rounds have made for memorable TV narratives. John Daly, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy are all names that come to mind when you think of an excellent live sports narrative. For LIV, the answer for “will anyone actually watch this thing” is a no, because nothing is at stake. No matter what, these golfers have millions in their pocket.

An interesting conversation with a friend who attended an LIV event in New Jersey saw her comment to me, “It’s great, the players are treated much better on this tour than they are on the PGA”. And after it settled with me that this might be true, as I don’t know the realities of the differing working conditions for both groups, I realize in reflection the conclusion of my point. Golf is not only a rich’s man game, but a game that takes more mental stress on the body than it does physical. Golfers get to travel the world and enjoy a game where amateurs are routinely encouraged to drink like fish and gamble like heathens while playing. They are golfers. Not coal miners, teachers, first responders or rectors in Residence Halls here at Notre Dame. Its golf. For professionals, it is a tradition that nothing is given, but everything is earned. If you don’t like it, then take a day job and join where a country club that would be happy to have you participate in their events. Yes, as a business student I know and believe that everyone is entitled to earn as money as they would like to. But when you complain about conditions making millions a year putting a ball into a hole, and then spurn your employer to be paid to do the same thing by Saudi Arabia, I really don’t think you get a say in the matter.

Now many LIV golfers have danced around the question of their defection when the subject is broached. But Harold Varner III gave a blunt answer that moved against this trend. He described his contract as “life changing money” and a “financial breakthrough”. But as these record contracts continue to be signed, I would like to point out that no amount of money ever bought another second of time. LIV athletes are going to have plenty of time in their shortened weekends to think about their adjusted contribution to the sport of golf, society, and to their new reputations as professional athletes. So, as these LIV defectors enjoy their cash in a bathtub like Scrooge McDuck, I hope they reflect on what master they serve. And as no man can serve two, I hope this reflection will lead to the collapse of the LIV tour and not to the landscape of professional golf as we know it.

Stephen Viz is a One Year MBA candidate and graduate of Holy Cross College. Hailing from Orland Park, Illinois, his columns are all trains of thoughts, and he can be found at either Decio Cafe or at Mendoza. He can be reached at sviz@nd.edu or on Twitter at @StephenViz.

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Notre Dame vs. Ohio State: The wolf rushes into the lion’s jaws

Robb Stark and Tywin Lannister. Daniel in the Lion’s Den. The movie “300.” Rocky Balboa in Russia. Notre Dame football opening the 2022 season at The Shoe. All of these situations are synonymous with underdogs involved in the fight of a lifetime, and if the betting public has anything to say about it, The Fighting are a MASSIVE underdog this weekend. I love Marcus Freeman and his nonchalant attitude towards the -17.5 point line the Irish have been placed at, but nevertheless, Notre Dame will go into this as the largest underdog I think they’ve been placed in the last 20 years. 

But I am not here to talk about the state of Notre Dame Football, or even dabble to make a prediction about the outcome of the game or season. Ever since my 13-year-old self-predicted a 23-21 Irish victory on January 7, 2013, I don’t dare partake in such activities. On the contrary, I would love to speak to the fantastic time that visiting Notre Dame students will have this weekend if they have chosen to attend tomorrow’s game. Easily the most daunting early season matchup in recent memory, the threat of the outcome has not dissuaded undergrads and alumni alike from booking plans to drive into Columbus this weekend. And I applaud them. Because yes, regardless of your outcome in the student ticket lottery, and regardless of the score at the end of the contest, if you are traveling to the game, you are bound for the time of your life. 

Personally, I have had a euphoric experience as an Irish fan in a visiting stadium. The high, lows and adrenaline delivered by traveling and game-winning fields can almost rival game day at Notre Dame. Of course, I am spoiled that this game happened to be played in Tallahassee as we took on Florida State last year during Labor Day weekend, but I almost didn’t attend. Emphasis on almost. An invite to Tallahassee was extended to me early last August when I was told that a group of friends were planning to make a weekend out of the trip. They invited me and others to do the same. Skeptical at first, I cataloged almost every excuse in the book to avoid further conversations about attending. “The job search”, “homework”, “Who will walk my dog?” (I’ve never had a dog), “All my money is tied up in long term municipal bonds” were all excuses involved in my fight against the inevitable. But deep down, I really wanted to go. And finally, after a push from my mom, my bests friend and I decided to go over Spicy Siracha Caesar Salads at Bru Burger. Florida State vs. Notre Dame was on. 

We immediately booked $120 round trip flights (yes, the good old days), and flew out of O’Hare in the middle of the night to make it to Atlanta. From Atlanta we rented a car to make it Florida’s capital by Saturday afternoon. After Popeyes and Sunday mass at the Florida State Union, a truly incredible weekend was underway. The game itself was one of the best of 2021, and it prompted me to cry twice, once during the “Amazing Grace” tribute to Bobby Bowden and once again when the Seminoles tied the game at 38 all. Long exciting touchdowns by Michael Mayer were matched on the defensive side of the ball with the most impressive interception of the season by Kyle Hamilton. The game was a nail-biter through and through, and just when I thought it was over, the Irish won it on a game-winning field goal. And while the rest of the world listened to Brian Kelly comment on executing his players on national television (they’re just kids Brian!!), the Tomahawk chop continued to play on over and over in my head. But an Irish victory was reason for a fitting celebration, and I’ve got to tell you, our group of weary travelers from South Bend, now confidently self-dubbed the “Seminole Seven,” took every bit of deliberate enjoyment leaving the premises of Doak Campbell Stadium. 

So a piece of advice to students traveling to Columbus, Ohio this weekend. Be safe, be smart and win or lose, the 46556 will welcome you back Monday morning as the conquering heroes you are. And to Tim, Jack, Micah, Camden, Peter and Ryan. 

Go Irish and Long Live the Seminole Seven!

Stephen Viz

Stephen is a One Year MBA candidate and graduate of Holy Cross College. Hailing from Orland Park, Illinois, his columns are all trains of thoughts, and he can be found at either Decio Cafe or at Mendoza. He can reached at sviz@nd.edu or on Twitter at @StephenViz